David J. Stevenson
I am the battalion chaplain for 1st Battalion, 46th Infantry, stationed at Fort Knox, Kentucky. This is a battalion of the 1st Armor Training Brigade. For a while, each of our four companies was running about 220 privates through a nine-week basic training course. Now, I am the chaplain for over 1,000 soldiers. Aside from the privates (recruits) who are in training, my battalion also has about 120 permanent-party soldiers, composed of our command staff, supply sergeants, drill sergeants, etc.
Our battalion recently had a change of mission. You may have heard about this in the news. We are the first unit to be doing the Warrior Transition Course or Operation Blue to Green. This is a four-week training course that transitions soldiers from the Air Force, Navy, or Marines to the Army.
Let me be more specific about what I do as a chaplain.
Counseling the soldiers in itself could be a full-time job. Their average age is twenty-one. Many are right out of high school and joined the Army to "get their lives straightened out." So you can imagine what it is like for them, leaving their familiar surroundings, being away from family, hearing about war abroad, being ordered around constantly by their drill sergeants, and taking part in some pretty intense training. Most of them do more physical work in the first hour of their day than they normally did for an entire week. Do you see why so many of them want someone warm and friendly (like a chaplain) to talk with?
Even though they are told that the chaplain cannot get them out of basic training, this is the main reason why they ask to speak with me. I tell them, "I can't get you out of basic, but I can help you get through. Remember the last four words you said when you raised your right hand and took an oath to serve your country: 'So help me God.' " I can't even tell you how many opportunities I have had to share the good news of Jesus Christ with these privates. It is exciting to see how the Lord uses the Army to draw these young men to himself. I normally give out a couple dozen Bibles each week. This is the most exciting and rewarding area of my ministry.
I also have had the opportunity to plan and execute a Marriage Retreat for the permanent-party soldiers of my battalion. The first one went well, and I'm in the process of planning my second. It's great that the Army pays for these weekend getaways for these soldiers and their spouses, and they give me yet another opportunity to minister to soldiers and their families.
I do preventive counseling right where the soldiers are-the barracks, training sites, dining facilities, physical training (PT), and rifle ranges. As I walk about, I have five-minute conversations with the soldiers, and many of the conversations end up with me praying with them. Often I gather a big group together to pray, especially when they are feeling discouraged during BRM (Basic Rifle Marksmanship).
My commander, Colonel (LTC) Larsen, has ordered me to pray with the group right before they are ready to shoot to qualify. Going to these ranges has taken some getting used to. Imagine walking about where a couple hundred soldiers are firing their M-16 rifles for the very first time. This is live fire! I pray for my own safety as I walk about.
Two other chaplains and I, along with our assistants, keep our offices at Cavalry Chapel, just a couple of blocks from the battalion barracks. Each Sunday we offer worship services for several battalions. I'm part of the Protestant worship team, and I lead worship and preach at CAV Chapel every other week. We offer two services, which I really enjoy. The soldiers are very receptive to the Word of God. Many of them are eager to experience the love of Christ.
But what I enjoy even more than the services at CAV Chapel are the field services. Each company, at the end of its training cycle (whether 4 or 9 weeks), has a Field Training Exercise (FTX). This is where they stay in the field for several days and nights, carrying out missions that reinforce their training. During each FTX, my assistant and I go out to the field (in full camouflage, including face paint) and lead a field service. It's very hooah (Army lingo for "way cool, great," among other things). It's also very sobering, as we are reminded that many of our comrades, in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, are worshiping God in unsafe environments where they wonder what the next day will bring.
The Lord has blessed me with a great commander, Colonel Larsen. He's been instrumental in making military training more relevant to modern warfare. Over time I can see his trust in me building. He allows me a lot of liberty in ministering to our soldiers.
There are many gatherings where the chaplain has an opportunity to lead in prayer. I see each one as an important avenue to share the love and grace of God in Christ.
I am involved with many installation duties. I periodically write for the Turret, our neighborhood post newspaper. I'm on a funeral duty roster to perform military funerals. Often I am the on-call duty chaplain, who responds to calls that range from an emergency to something minor, such as a mother who is worried about her son in basic training.
All of the chaplains here are involved in ongoing training. Since arriving here at Fort Knox, I've been part of ruck march training, rappelling, mass casualty training, hospital ministry, and suicide prevention training.
Reprinted from New Horizons, June 2005.